Nate Phelps gave an interesting talk last night

June 15, 2012

He gave the audience a run down of his upbringing under the demanding and watchful eyes of Fred Phelps, creator of the Westboro Baptist Church. He described some of the abuse he and his mother and siblings went through when he was growing up and how the ludicrous theology they lived under could continue to be maintained, and is still maintained now – clever reinterpretation of the King James bible to create “the world” and “the saved” as only the people of Phelps’ flock. God’s love is extended only to those chosen few, as is salvation. They have no desire to convert or change anyone (beyond the ones who might dare marry into the family); they just want to advertise the fact that everyone who isn’t them will be automatically destined for hell upon death. And, for some reason known only to the senior Phelps, it became important to focus the bulk of that attention on the gays and their supporters rather than picket adulterers or murderers or others who’d break the rest of the commandments without much thought.

I didn’t attend the pub chat afterwards and won’t be at the lunch today, either, but it was worth going to see. He’s an example of someone who grew up in an incredibly strict and fundamentalist regime and found himself unable to continue in it. Fred Phelps teaches that reason and rationality are the Devil’s tricks, messing with a faithful mind by making it want to question instead of believe blindly. Much of the family is still living under that perception but Nate couldn’t quell the doubts, and that’s part of why he left. He told us a story about how his kids were asking about heaven once and where people who don’t get to go to heaven go. He had to explain what hell was and what eternity was and all the kids started crying. “I want to believe in god! I don’t want to go to hell!” He recalled his own reactions to these “facts” as a child and then and there vowed to be a different kind of dad. Now he considers himself an atheist and refuses to indoctrinate his own children. If they want to buy into a religion later in life, they can choose for themselves, he said. He’d rather teach them the skills to think critically and question what they hear and read. The more they question and seek factual answers, the better off they’ll be down the road.

Younger members of the church have started to drift away, too, and Nate offers himself up as a mentor if any of them should want to seek him out, but he knows they’ll be in weird places mentally for a while, just like he was. It won’t help to tell them how badly screwed up they are after years under the church’s influence. They’ll hopefully figure that out for themselves and start making headway on fixing it.

Here’s hoping.

The moral: be careful what you preach because the internet can quote you…

May 3, 2012

…verbatim via video.

Pastor Sean Harris spoke recently at an event in North Carolina meant to promote the ban on same sex marriage. It was recorded for posterity, of course, and he is caught on video suggesting more than a few questionable behaviours parents should be willing to engage in in order to save their children from a sinful gay life. Not surprisingly, the video turned up on at least one site promoting LGBTQ etc. rights. Good as You and Pink News quote it. I’ll pick a bit of it, too:

Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male.

Pink News reports that Harris later claimed the LGBT community had taken his words out of context and twisted the meaning,

saying he “would never advocate for such discipline or actions on behalf of a father or mother”.

In a blog post addressed to members of his church he wrote: “I would never advocate for such discipline or actions on behalf of a father or mother. I misspoke. Hopefully, you understood that I was speaking in a forceful manner to emphasize the degree to which gender distinctions matter to God; and therefore, must matter to each of us and especially parents [...]

He stands by his belief that God’s avidly against homosexuality but has since retracted his comments and apologized for causing offense.

“I recognize that there are those in the LGBT community who believe that their sexual behavior is not sin. I do not agree with them and this official retraction should not be misunderstood as an apology for the gospel of Jesus Christ or the Word of God.”

Alternet ran a short article back in April suggesting that Jesus might have been gay.

Had he been devoid of sexuality, he would not have been truly human. To believe that would be heretical.

Heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual: Jesus could have been any of these. There can be no certainty which. The homosexual option simply seems the most likely. The intimate relationship with the beloved disciple points in that direction. It would be so interpreted in any person today. Although there is no rabbinic tradition of celibacy, Jesus could well have chosen to refrain from sexual activity, whether he was gay or not. Many Christians will wish to assume it, but I see no theological need to. The physical expression of faithful love is godly. To suggest otherwise is to buy into a kind of puritanism that has long tainted the churches.

Harris would never buy that, of course. It doesn’t fit in with his specific world view.

The bible isn’t a straightforward book. It’s filled with analogy and metaphor and glaring inaccuracies. It’s not a history book set out to record events as they actually happened. It’s a never-out-of-print relic of a bygone age, the collected stories of people who lived over two thousand years ago and how they thought, believed and ruled themselves. There’s no denying that some of the rules set down back then were socially and culturally valuable and still worth setting into law (laws against theft and murder come to mind). Other things were very time-specific and very detrimental to the rights of all human beings – like slavery and homosexuality as abomination – and are nothing current educated societies should promote as valid now.

But people like Harris still will. At least he apologized for the way he attempted to preach his message. That was good of him. Negative press does wonders.

Christian coffee house offers free brew…but not really

February 7, 2012

Getting patrons to pay their souls into Christ’s coffer is their overall ambition. Matt Brown and Matt Ball have opened a small coffee shop at Oklahoma State University and everything they need to run it has been supplied by a ministry:

Their coffee shop is part of a non-profit organization, Firehouse Ministries, whose goal is “to provide a safe environment to allow people to minister and be ministered to.” Brown and Ball say they took a “leap of faith” for a chance to give back to their community.

“If somebody needs prayer, we’ll pray with them. If they just need somebody to listen to them, we can do that. We’ll help them with their homework,” said Ball.

I don’t really have a problem with this, except it seems like blatant bribery. They’ll give free stuff but is taking Jesus going to be optional? Probably not.

Brown and Ball rely on the kindness of others and try to pass that message along to their patrons.

And Firehouse is prospering. Even the owners are surprised at how popular the cause has become in the small town of Bristow.

Prospering how? I take this to mean it’s not really free stuff. Is it free with a “give what you can” donation expected? Kindness of others: aka, we won’t tell you how much to pay for that bottomless cup of coffee but you’ll give us what you think it’s worth or Jesus will be upset with you. Let us prey…

Ah well, whatever. It’s a coffee house. Nobody’s being forced to use it. If people want their coffee with a side of Christ, it’s their choice. It wouldn’t be mine. I have a coffee maker and know how to make my own scones anyway.

Kentucky church rethinks interracial couple ban

December 3, 2011

There’s nothing like world-wide exposure to show a community just how out of date, backwards and positively racist its practices are. The story came out last week about Stella Harville’s experience in August. At her rural Kentucky church, she and her fiance from Zimbabwe, Ticha Chikuni, had an opportunity to perform some music there but were later told they’d never be allowed to participate in the church as an interracial married couple.

The vote to ostracise couples of different races was held at the Gulnare Freewill baptist church last Sunday. It has prompted a bitter dispute in the local Pike County and thrown up hatreds and antagonisms that had been hidden beneath the surface of the community for years.

The vote was held on a motion brought by the former pastor of the church, Melvin Thompson. He proposed that people in interracial marriages should not be “received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions – with the exception being funerals”.

His motion added that it “was not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve”.

Doesn’t sound very unifying to those left on the outside of the church, frankly. I don’t know how common interracial marriages are in general, let alone in Kentucky. I suspect they still must be a bit eye turning to some people, going by this debacle alone. Growing up in my smallish (predominantly white) city, it was novel to discover an interracial couple, both of whom were teachers I knew in junior and high school. I don’t remember if I had any classes with their son but I think he was fairly popular, and probably would have been even if his parents hadn’t been in the same building. He was that kind of exuberant guy. But I digress. Saskatchewan isn’t Kentucky and I have no idea if the couple would have been church-goers at risk of running into any blatant racially-motivated conundrums, or even subtle ones. I hate to think my city would be like that but I didn’t think my city had a gay bashing problem either…

Anyway, the Kentucky pastor had stepped down for “health reasons” supposedly but still kept insisting this ought to happen and of the 40 parishioners asked to vote on it, nine agreed, six disagreed and the rest abstained for some reason. Harville states in the article that she’s disappointed more refused to stand up against the bigotry, but this is sometimes the way groups work. It’s far harder to stand up to your friends than it is your enemies.

Yesterday came new word about this issue. The Gulnare church has been inundated with angry phone calls and emails denouncing the proposal and ban. Although no examples are provided, it’s not hard to imagine how many must be filled with vitriol over the overt racism of it.

“We are not a group of racist people,” said Keith Burden of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. “We have been labeled that obviously because of the actions of nine people.”

The former pastor, Melvin Thompson, swears he isn’t racist, either, but when AP pressed for a different explanation for why he pushed for this, he refused to give them one. If it quacks like a duck..

After giving interviews earlier this week, the church’s current pastor, Stacy Stepp, and several other church members did not return phone calls Friday. One of the members said they were shocked. Stepp said he voted against the measure and would work to overturn it.

The national group distanced itself from the resolution in a statement Thursday, saying it “neither condemns nor disallows” interracial marriage.

It said the church was working to reverse its policy and added, “We encourage the church to follow through with this action.”

Harville, who is now engaged to Chikuni, said earlier this week that she felt betrayed by the church.

“Whether they keep the vote or overturn it, it’s going to be hard for me go back there,” she told AP.

Begging the question, why would she want to go back there? Hard as it might be to leave the people she does like who accept her decision to marry a foreign black man, maybe it’s the best option. There’d always be a few hard feelings and undercurrents of distrust and wariness. It wouldn’t be comfortable for anyone in there after this has gone on, not for the couple, and certainly not for those who voted against them. It doesn’t matter what Stepp might later preach about tolerance and forgiveness, the memories of pariah status would remain. Maybe if everyone got a bit of relationship counseling…

More than 40 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down a Virginia statute barring whites from marrying nonwhites, overturning bans in 15 other states. But while interracial marriages have soared since then, many churches remain largely segregated.

Curtiss Paul DeYoung, a professor at Bethel College who has studied interracial churches, said church members opposed to a more diverse church usually just go somewhere else.

“Rarely today do you see it so blatantly come to a vote. Usually people just leave but they don’t say much about it,” DeYoung said. “I think this is still one of the last hurdles around race for a lot of folks in this country. It’s just rarely stated this bluntly.”

I think in this era it’s depressing to see it still stated at all. Why the hell do people have problems with this? A particular religious upbringing can’t possibly be all that’s behind it, but it’s probably the bulk of the reason.

In terms of my extended family, my uncle married a woman from Thailand and only knew her for two days or some crazy thing. The short courtship was a bigger surprise than his new wife’s heritage. That was in 1990, I think, and they’re still together. His daughter from his first marriage married a man of Indian descent and got to do two wedding ceremonies: one traditional for his family and one Canadian. Her husband has a picture up on his Facebook page of how she was dressed and calls her a “Bollywood princess.” No doubt! Gorgeous woman. You can totally tell we’re related…

The Free Will Baptists trace their history to the 18th century. They emphasized the Arminian doctrine of free will, free grace, and free salvation, in contrast to most Baptists, who were Calvinists and believed Christ died only for those predestined to be saved.

There are some 4,200 churches worldwide. The National Association of Free Will Baptists organized in Nashville, Tenn., in 1935 and is now based in Antioch, Tenn.

The group said in its statement that the denomination has no official policy regarding interracial couples “because it has not been an issue.”

Perhaps it’s because few dared do it and attempt to remain with the Free Will Baptist Church.

As troubling as this has been for the couple, it’s overall good that they made some waves. If that church has been a stagnant pool of antiquated thinking, it’s high time for the waters to stir and generate some positive changes. That congregation needed to realize they don’t live in a vacuum, too. The whole world can watch what people do now, not just their God. It should put a bigger onus on everyone to think carefully before they commit to something that’s bound to be a bad idea. Of course, browsing The Smoking Gun and other pages FARK links to every day, it’s clear we’re not there yet…

Sports can be religions but do fans take faith in players too far?

November 17, 2011

I don’t know if that’ll feel like a misleading post title later on, but it’s a decent question all the same. I was going to write about this story this morning but wasn’t sure I felt like delving into the world of sports, a world I don’t give two sniffs about usually. Especially the world of football. That said, fans of Tim Tebow have been showing their love for the guy with specially made jerseys that feature his number and the name “Jesus” where Tebow’s would normally appear. Responses to this odd fad are mixed. I dislike the choices in the poll the Sun Sentinel offers — “What do you think of the “Jesus” Tim Tebow Jersey” with the choices being “brilliant,” “blasphemous” or “both.” There needs to be options like “stupid” and “pointless” and “I don’t care.”

Tebow, who inscribed numbers of Bible verses in his eye black while at Florida, stopped short of endorsing the Jesus jerseys, telling the Denver Post on Wednesday: “I don’t know what to think about that because I don’t know where people’s hearts are. It’s important to not judge without knowing their hearts. If their heart is to honor the Lord, then it’s a good thing. Only God can judge because only God knows what’s truly in a person’s heart.”

Be that as it may in the land of believers, won’t a little piece of Tebow’s ego feel a bit of a boost being compared to Jesus? The guy was super cool. Plus, I just watched Jesus Christ Superstar again last night (although not this version) and just going by that, he had some insanely obsessive fans, too…

I think it’s fair to say that the people who’d buy these shirts equate Tebow with Jesus, either in terms of his greatness of spirituality, or his ability to appeal to such a fan base, or whatever. They could have called him a god instead, but I suppose “Jesus” makes it all that more specific. To them, he’s a god-send, just like Jesus supposedly was.

Makes me wonder where his Judas is, if that’s the case.

Another oddity regarding the man and his habits – there’s a website filled with photos of people imitating Tebow’s predilection for kneeling to pray wherever he happens to be, regardless of what other people are doing. I like Yahoo Sports’ take on it — “It’s like planking, but dumber” — and I’m inclined to agree. The only reason to pray like that is to make it a spectacle. To call attention to yourself and show all witnesses just how Christian you are. Look at me! I kneel on a whim and pray! Are you looking at me? I’m going to turn my head a fraction and check..yes! Make it look even more dire or passionate now… I could be wrong. Maybe a lot of people think the only way a prayer gets heard is if they bow down like penitent sinners and humbly grass stain their knees before they get down to business. Mocking the behaviour seems a bit childish, though, but just because many are, doesn’t mean I have to do it, too. Tempting, mind you..

Art can be an enlightening emotional experience…

September 9, 2011

even when it’s tacky as all get out. Andrew Brown at the Guardian has a short post about bad Jesus art, a topic I can’t seem to leave alone. He includes a link to Ship of Fools and their Gadgets for God section. I wish I’d found that when I wrote my “Why can’t artists leave Jesus alone?” post. I think the gadgets are less about art and more about the lure of consumerism and money making, but they’re entertaining to look at, nonetheless. I can’t imagine why people would want them, except as curiosities. And yet, there’s no doubt the faithfull find this stuff in a shop somewhere and can’t help but believe God or Jesus meant for them to have it. And then they’ll open both their hearts and their wallets…

Considered just as art, it makes you want to wash your eyes with bleach. But there is no doubt that there’s a worked out symbol system here, which means a lot to believers, and could be translated into coherent and fairly sensible prose. That hints, in fact, at what is wrong, artistically. The intended audience knows what is meant far too well to see what is actually there, right in front of their eyes.

What’s actually there is evidence that belief tends to trump sense. A 10 commandments poster seems like a reasonable purchase, maybe. Never mind that there’s a copy in every bible in the house already, but whatever. Does a person really need a 10 commandment blanket? To celebrate Easter, some go to church and walk the stations of the cross. Is it necessary to bring a neon light-up set home for your lawn or roof as well? I fail to see how wearing Jesus Loves You flip flops to the beach is going to make anyone a better Christian, be it the wearer or those reading what’s left behind. Anyone looking to sell their home in this market might need the equivalent of a miracle but will a statue of St. Joseph (patron saint of homes) actually make a sale happen faster?

I think some people have an emotional attachment to their religions in the way others get attached to Star Wars memorabilia or the wares typically sold at comic conventions. I was pissed off for days after losing my Star Trek sound effects key chain. A friend of mine has a “Trouble with Tribbles” ornament that drops tribbles on Kirk’s head and quotes the episode. I was so envious of that thing, I was plotting ways to steal it last Christmas.

It’s all about feeling connected to something greater than we are by ourselves. Art can unify us. Architecture. Pop culture. Small wonder we’ll glom onto trinkets that we think speak to us as individuals even when they’re mass produced. It’s somewhat soothing to know someone else in the world has probably bought the same silly thing for the same silly reason. Like kindred spirits, maybe.

What kind of “collectables” have you spent your money on?

Worship the great Guzoo?

June 10, 2011

An zoo in Alberta needed salvation and what better way could there be to deliver it besides calling itself a church? It’s unlikely to work for long, though.

Guzoo Animal Farm owner Lynn Gustafson has started calling his property near Three Hills “a parsonage,” and has declared his hundreds of exotic and domestic animals as having found sanctuary.

The designation means, according to Gustafson, that his animals are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“We are kind of looking after God’s creatures so I guess we are kind of the same as we have always been — a sanctuary,” he said.

That CBC article includes a link to an earlier article about Gustafson’s zoo and Alberta’s government demanding it be decommissioned due to deplorable conditions for the 400 some animals he keeps there.

An inspection team from the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), working with provincial officials, found numerous ongoing deficiencies in all categories of zoo operations, officials said Wednesday.

“We have not taken this step lightly,” said Alberta Minister of Sustainable Resource Development Mel Knight. “We worked closely with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development to identify the decommissioning as the responsible action.”

The animals will be dispersed in a way that is sensitive to the needs of the animals as well as the owner’s business, officials added.

I don’t know where I stand on the issue of zoos. I’m not a huge fan of them but they could hardly send every captive animal “home” and know for certain they’d live to a ripe old age of whatever. Actions of some kind need to be taken to protect endangered species (especially when that endangerment is humanity’s fault in the first place) but they shouldn’t have to live in squalor in order to be saved. The needs of the animal are important.

Zoocheck Canada has a list of articles (mostly PDF) about the ongoing issues with Guzoo over the past 15 years. Gustafson has a spotty track record by the look of things and calling his zoo a “parsonage” doesn’t automatically mean he’ll radically change his habits or improve conditions for the animals in there. It doesn’t sound like he’s much of a saviour.

Prayer for a postal strike? How’s that going to help?

June 4, 2011

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada is suggesting prayer can sort out Canada Post and their rotating strike situation.

“We and many other Canadian charities communicate with our constituents using the mail service, and we also depend on mailed-in donations to do our work,” said Fred Weiss, BGEAC’s executive director. “We invite Canadians to join us in praying to God for a quick resolution of the rotating strike so the good work of charities can continue.”

They’re still snail-mailing information to their donors, some of whom are probably seniors who don’t have the internet smarts to sort out Paypal, or email for that matter. Funny they don’t just pray to God and ask him to sort out their money delays out through miracles and eliminate the need to pester people in the first place…

Canadian researchers reinterpret Hebrew Bible

May 27, 2011

CNN has something called iReport that allows ordinary joes to play journalist and someone from Radisson, Saskatchewan posted a short article about the Chronicle Project. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. I suspect the poster is one from the team itself looking for a bit of press. Thanks a lot, FARK, for linking to it…

A research group in Canada, has proven that the Old Testament has been massively mistranslated.

This follows three years of research, which have uncovered the actual system for translating ancient Hebrew.

The group discovered that each letter is not a letter at all, but a full word, and what was believed to be a word, is actually a sentence like description, which supplies the definition of the word. With this discovery, each word can now be properly defined and the results are astounding.

This means a word can no longer be disputed and swayed by doctrinal pressures

If accurate, the findings will rewrite everything we presently believe about the scriptual beginnings of the Earth.

Their site provides some explanation of how they did this and includes reworked translations of the glyphs that make up Genesis and company. Plus footnotes. This I grab from their PDF of the first creation story in there.

Computer models have been developed to see what would happen if a portion of the worlds oceans were put into orbit forming a bubble around the earth. Acting like a lens, the sunlight would be distributed so that most of the earth would become semi tropical by receiving equal light. The second effect, would be the screening of almost all of the sun’s harmful radiation, which might explain the rapid shortening of the human life span after the bubble collapsed, forming part of the flood.

Writing like that makes it hard to take this group seriously.

They claim they use something called “Self Defining Hebrew,” a method of attaching meaning to individual glyphs that supposedly bring the stories closer to their true intent. I did a bit more poking around to find other references to SDH and found a few forum posts from 2010 at Above Top Secret , clearly a conspiracy theory haven:

“Does The Chronicle Project research prove Joseph Smith never heard from God?

Eve was A Clone…actual hebrew proves it”

“The Oldest Conspiracy Theory is now FACT” – this being: “the Powers That Be have actually funded the distortion of the Bible translations we have.”

With their discovery, Hebrew has been shown to have each word’s definition embedded in each word, and because of this, you cannot mistranslates a word.
Once applied, the results were astounding, which makes me ask this question.
If the PTB did screw with this, what were they trying to hide and what will they do to the research team that has made this discovery?

Probably nothing.

Why does a Jesus tattoo make the news?

May 26, 2011

Because it’s on Justin Bieber’s body, I guess. Those who follow the kid figure he got the tattoo of “Yeshua” spelled out in Hebrew while touring biblical sites in Israel. He had his shirt off in Hawaii recently so people could take pictures of it while he romped around with his Disney girlfriend, Selena Gomez.


Reminds me of a book I’m waiting for, though: Gods Behaving Badly
Media, Religion, and Celebrity Culture
by Pete Ward. Not to be confused with the hilarious novel by Marie Phillips with the same name,

Gods Behaving Badly examines the blurred boundary between popular culture and religion—one that has given way to an often confounding fusion of the sacred and the profane. Flipping through pages of tabloid media and looking underneath the veil of Hollywood’s glamour, Pete Ward exposes how, in its consumer life, Western society elevates celebrity to the theological and, in so doing, creates a new para-religion. Inevitably, whether despised or extolled, individual celebrities evoke public moral judgment, creating fertile ground for theological innovation.

Plucked straight from the headlines, the narratives in Gods Behaving Badly give concrete evidence of how the religious themes of incarnation, revelation, sin, judgment, and redemption are all woven into narratives we construct about our most cherished—and most villainized—personalities.

Sounds delish. I look forward to digging into it.


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